Introducing the Real Halloween Spirits of Napa Valley!

With Halloween now descending upon us, there are so many merry people dressed as ghosts, ghouls, witches and skeletons to celebrate this sacred holiday. But for some, it’s a real-life occurrence at different times of the year. One of those people is gifted winemaker Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr Winery in St. Helena.

Starr didn’t believe in spirits until 2004. But that changed when she purchased a house in Browns Valley west of Napa. In addition to having a lovely hillside view of the valley, the house also came with a set of spirits who lived near the window in her bedroom.

“They would rattle the window from the inside. God, they were loud!” says Starr during our interactive discussion about ghosts and spirits at Crocker & Starr in mid-October.

After having many encounters with the spirits, Starr discovered her friend was a practicing witch. And after a deep discussion and a few bottles of wine, it was determined that the best method to get rid of the spirits was to use the traditional method of burning sage. The only catch was that she could only invite friends with personalities strong enough to persuade the uninvited guests to return to the spirit world.

Once ready on that fateful night of 2006, the team Starr assembled included herself, the witch, and another friend that couldn’t wait to help the cause. Here’s a summary of the de-ghosting process:

Step 1: Light the sage on fire then blow it out to allow smoke to fill the house.
Step 2: Go to all the corners of the house and start telling the spirits what you want them to do.
Step 3: Use friendly lines to get your point across. The quotes used included: “This is not your place any longer.” “Go in peace.” “Go be with your others.” “You need to go back to the place where you belong.” “It’s time for you to return to your friends in the spirit world.”
Step 4: Cross your fingers and hope for success!

As it turned out, the ritual worked. As a result, Starr and her husband never had another encounter before they sold the house earlier this year.

[Photos:  Winemaker Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr says she had spirited encounter inside the old chapel that found a new home on the winery’s estate in St. Helena; The beautiful new Lokoya tasting room on Spring Mountain west of St. Helena; At Freemark Abbey north of St. Helena, there has been a sighting of a ghost that is believed to be Josephine Tychson, the woman winemaker who founded the 16th bonded winery in Napa Valley on the property in 1886; A look at the Crocker & Star wine label.]

That’s the good news. But Starr has also had numerous encounters with spirits at the ancient winery and historic grounds that she and her business partner Charlie Crocker brought back to life when they started the winery in 1997.

According to Starr, every spirit is different. For instance, at the Casali—the old brandy house on the estate which was originally developed by the Dowdell family in the 1890s—the spirits are quite friendly.

“I really believe that the spirit there really had fun with brandy,” she says, as she points towards a classic photo of the people who worked on the property in 1890s. “It’s just a really good ghost. But it definitely has the ability to say when the party is over.”

As an example, Starr told a story about a party that was going sour in the Casali. “Until that point it was a fun gathering, but I think the ghost was done with the crowd. It was at that point that a man started drinking more wine and got in another man’s face. Nothing happened, but everyone decided to leave immediately thereafter. It was the spirit’s version of crowd control,” say Starr, with a chuckle.

On the darker side, another spirit lives in the old chapel on the estate property purchased by the Crocker family in the 1970s.

“Somebody move that cherub and cross closer to the door,” quipped Starr, as we approached the petite white chapel with blue trim. “That spirit in there is not my friend.”

The history behind the building is intriguing. Built with local redwood in 1910, the original home of this quaint chapel was next to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. As a native of the city and with a long family history with the Catholic community, Charlie and his siblings were approached to see if they were interested in providing a new home for this registered chapel. As a result, Charlie was able to relocate building on the southern edge of the estate in the 1990s.

Starr’s haunting experience occurred when she guided a tour for a small group of visitors through the interior of the building a few years ago. It was a very cold morning. So after walking past the four pews on her way towards the pulpit, she vividly remembers seeing beautiful sunlight streaming in through the window facing Howell Mountain to the east.

“I was wearing a long sleeve black sweater and the sunbeams provided a little extra warmth. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a strange vibration on my arm. Upon rolling up the sleeve, a giant black bumblebee came flying out,” she said in a coarse voice.

“There was no way a bumble bee would be buzzing around on such a cold day. Let alone, suddenly appearing in the arm of my sweater. It freaked me out.”

Although Pam’s wedding was held in front of the chapel, she’s never been back inside. “I don’t know what that spirit was thinking. But I’m not going in that building ever again. Obviously I’m still offended by my experience.”

Pam is not alone with ghost stories in Napa Valley.

Another person with some insight is Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey Winery. Located on the northern side of St. Helena, the historic winery recently went through a marvelous restoration process. In addition to transforming the interior of the old stone building into an expansive tasting room and wine library; the building is also the new home to Two Birds, One Stone, one of the hippest new restaurants in Napa Valley, featuring the tasty delights of star chefs Sang Yoon and Douglas Keane.

Recently, I sat down with Edwards and tasted through a sampling of new releases and library wines while we talked about the intriguing ghost encounters on the property.

As the first woman winemaker in Napa Valley, the original owner Josephine Tychson and her husband moved from San Francisco to St. Helena in the 1880s. After a hard fight with tuberculosis, he passed away. But alas, Josephine moved on to start the 16th bonded winery in Napa Valley in 1886.

The original wines were made in barn structures on the property. In addition to having vineyards around where the current winery stands, there were more also planted on the hillside across the road near the house where Josephine lived until she sold the winery to Italian immigrant Antoine Forni in the late 1890s.

After renamed the winery Lombarda Cellars after the small region of Italy where he grew up, Forni built the original stone building on the property. The construction was started in 1898 and finished in 1906, the same year as the famous San Francisco earthquake.

There are no records of who owned the property after Forni closed the winery at the beginning of prohibition. But Edwards says it’s been suggested that there was “activity” on the property when it was a ghost winery.

In 1939, Charles Freeman, Mark Foster and Abbey Ahern purchased the property and brought it back to life. They renamed it Freemark Abbey, which is a shortened version of their three names scrunched together.

Since joining the team in 1980, Edwards has vivid memories of suspicious creaks and other noises that sounded like footsteps and voices when he would shut off the lights in the cellar late at night. But the most noteworthy occurrence happened when an intern saw a woman walking across the catwalk in the cellar. “It spooked her,” says Edwards.

At the magnificent new Lokoya site on Spring Mountain, winemaker Chris Carpenter said he’s convinced that one of the previous owners still resides in the caves below where the gorgeous new tasting room is located.

Carpenter and vineyard manager Mariano Navarro have also had similar experiences at the ancient stone winery on the historic La Jota Vineyard property on Howell Mountain. The structure was completed in 1898 by Frederick Hess, who made wine on the property until prohibition. But until William and Joan Smith purchased the property in 1974, it too became a ghost winery.

“These old buildings have stories to tell,” says Carpenter, who also noted that more ghost sightings are still pending.

With these thoughts in mind, mark your calendar to be part of Flavor Napa Valley on March 25, 2017. That is the day that Pam Starr, Ted Edwards, Chris Carpenter, myself, and other special guests will rekindle the stories about ghosts and spirits while tasting through a stellar lineup of wines from each of these haunted sites at the special “Ghost Wineries of Napa Valley” at the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America. For more information, visit www.flavornapavalley.com.

For your hedonistic pleasures for the fall and winter months of 2016, here are three new spirited red wine releases from Napa Valley that I recently reviewed.

Freemark Abbey 2013 Merlot, Napa Valley
Although some people believe Merlot is dead, Freemark Abbey winemaker Ted Edwards is the first to say that the noble grape variety is now stronger than ever. The latest example is the Freemark Abbey 2013 Napa Valley Merlot, a spirited blend made primarily with fruit from the Keyes Vineyard on Howell Mountain, Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak, and the Dos Rios and Cardinale vineyards in Yountville. Soft and elegant, this lively wine is bursting at the seams with expressive flavors of dark cherry, ripe berries, milk chocolate, wild herbs, chewy tannins, and deep, rich finish. $34/btl. www.freemarkabbey.com.

Crocker & Starr 2013 Casali 6 Red Wine, St. Helena
As an alternative to the latest offerings from witch’s caldron and eye of newt, try winemaker Pam Starr’s newest offering of the Casali series. In Italian, casali means “farmhouse.” This unique proprietary blend of Malbec and smaller portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was inspired by Pam’s visit to the Mendoza region of Argentina in 2012. Luxurious flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, lavender, vanilla, licorice, and cardamom are caressed with a smooth texture, bright acidity, and a long finish. $80/btl. www.crockerstarr.com.

Lokoya 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Veeder
From the Loyoka Appellations Collection from rugged vineyards at elevations of 1,100 to 2,500 feet above the valley. This fantastic new release features deep and dense flavors of briary blackberry, dark cherry, mint, citrus peel, allspice and chocolate truffle supported with chewy tannins, firm structure, and long graceful finish as it opens up in the glass. $375/btl. www.loyoka.com.

In the meantime, on behalf of SawyerSawyer.com, my staff,
and the Sawyer family,
Happy Halloween!

Petaluma Gap: Wind to Wine, Sunday Nov 6th

petgapI will be back for the second annual Petaluma Gap-Wind to Wine Festival being held at the Sheraton Petaluma, on Sunday, November 6th, from 11am to 4pm. This is your opportunity to experience what makes this region special with more than 100 Petaluma Gap wines available for tasting!

There are two VIP Seminars to choose from:
Food Friendly Wines hosted by myself.  Joining me will be winemakers Ana Keller(Keller Estate), Erica Stancliff (Trombetta Family Wines), andowner/chef Peter White (Sugo Trattoria). Food provided by Chef Richard Visconte.

Cool Climate Syrah led by my friend Dan Berger, which includes David Ramey(winemaker, Ramey Wine Cellars), Pax Mahle (winemaker,Pax Mahle Wines), Duncan Meyers (winemaker, Arnot-Roberts), and Cyrus Limon (wine writer, SoloSyrah).

history1The Grand Tasting will take place in the Sheraton’s Grand Ballroom, with more food stations, more space to mingle, and even more wines to sample!  There are a limited number of Early Bird tickets available, which entitles you to a coupon worth $20 that can be applied to a wine order at the event.

 Hope to see you in my seminar!

Art+MUSIC+Wine at SVMA: Saturday November 5th

The second installment of Pairings for the Senses Art+MUSIC+Wine at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is coming up on Saturday November 5th!

Little Vineyards will be poured and accompanied by the music of Sonoma vintner and rocker Rich Little.  Join me there, get your tickets!

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Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars and stay tuned for details about the last installment, Art+FOOD+Wine on December 3.

Glorious Bites Challenge elicits delicious food & photos!

gbites2Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards hosted the 2nd annual “Glorious Bites Challenge” this weekend, where three other judges and I selected Chera Little of Leander, Texas, as the 2016 winner, earning her bragging rights, a custom glass trophy and a check for $5000.  Her Miso-Maple Glazed Cod Wonton-Cho’s with Crispy Bok Choy Slaw has been deemed this year’s most glorious appetizer recipe in the country to pair with Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling Sonoma Brut. Little, who lost her husband just three months ago to brain cancer, said he encouraged her to enter the competition.  “My late husband was my biggest cheerleader.  He loved won tons, he loved cream cheese and he loved fish. This dish was inspired by him,” said Little.   “I am very excited and very humbled.  This has been an incredible experience. ”

Out of more than 1800 entries from 44 states, Little’s recipe rose to the forefront, bringing her to the semi-finals and ultimately to the winner’s circle at the final cook-off at Gloria Ferrer Winery on Saturday.   The judges unanimously enjoyed her recipe.

Joel Riddel, myself and Sara Deseran while Judging the Gloria Ferrer Glorious Bites.
Joel Riddel, myself and Sara Deseran while Judging the Gloria Ferrer Glorious Bites.

“I just loved the way the miso married so well with the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut,” said award-winning radio show Host and Producer Joel Riddell.

“I definitely thought it was the most complex dish. There were so many layers of flavors.  Every bite stood out and different elements played nicely with the wine,” said Sommelier, Wine Educator and Journalist Christopher Sawyer.

(Photos above: Three delicious entries and a bit of “ham” with colleagues Joel Riddell and Leslie Sbrocco.)

“I think we all agreed that this dish was really beautiful to look at and beautiful to taste.  It had it all the elements going on – bitter, salty, sweet—just a great dish,” according to Sara Deseran, Food Writer and Editor-at-Large for San Francisco magazine.

“Having tasted all the dishes previously at the semi-finals, I had no idea who would win today,” said Jennifer Luttrell, Keynote Glorious Bites Judge and Executive Chef for Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  “It was really tough to choose, but Chera’s dish had really bright layers of flavors and complexity and, most of all, it was delicious with the Sonoma Brut.”

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Won tons stuffed by Diane Williams of Auburn, CA with Beef, Blue Cheese and Bacon.

All finalists’ appetizers were judged on originality, taste and ability to pair with the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut.  During the competition, the more than 200 guests in attendance were entertained by TV Host, Wine Expert and Author Leslie Sbrocco, known for her appearances on NBC’s The Today Show and as the host of Check Please! Bay Area and her newest show Taste This.  Attendees also voted on their favorite appetizer from among the four finalists.  Taking home the popular vote, or the “Pop Award,” was Diane Williams of Auburn, California, for her Triple “B” Won Tons with Beef, Blue Cheese and Bacon.

All recipes from the 2016 finalists are available for download from the Glorious Bites website: www.gloriousbites.com 

Sawyer-Casale Wine Education Series 2016: Côte de Nuits

For devoted Pinot Noir fans, all roads ultimately lead to the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy, in France. Located between the historic city of Dijon to the north and the border with the Côte de Beaune to the south, this region is the birthplace of the noble Pinot Noir grape that is now grown in regions around the world.

burgundyThe history of winegrowing in the region dates back to 400 B.C. and the first formal viticultural practices were introduced to the area by the Romans in the 3rd century AD. Around the same time, the larger region was named for the Baltic tribe known as the Burgundians who came to the area to defend against the Germanic tribes moving south.

After earning a reputation for making high-quality red wines with Pinot Noir grapes indigenous to the area; the big turning point came when the physician for Louis XIV proclaimed that wines from Côte de Nuits offered health benefits to those who could get their hands on bottles from the region. Needless to say, the growing popularity of the wines from this region have made Côte de Nuits one of the most famous wine areas in the world.

In comparison to the 18 villages in the Côte de Beaune winegrowing region to the south; there are only 9 villages in Côte de Nuits. But on the flipside, the 24 Grand Crus in the smaller sub-appellations inside its borders are triple the amount found in Côte du Beaune.

Geographically, the region is very small. Running from village to village, the long strip of vineyards running from the hills to the villages and rivers range from 1.5 miles wide to only a ¼ mile at its most narrow points. With the exception of a small batch of white grapes grown in the hamlet of Musigny and a few other tiny sites; Pinot Noir is the exclusive grape of the entire region.

Each site has its own variation of soils. With that in mind, the best grapes are grown on slopes ranging from 800 to 1,000 feet, where the highest concentration of Marl (a combination of clay and limestone with smaller portions of sand and gravel) can be found. For this reason, the term terroir was ultimately defined by the vineyards of Cote de Nuits, especially at the famous grand cru sites that include: Romanée-Conti, La Tache, Richebourg, La Romanée, Romanée-St. Vivant and La Grand Rue around the village of Vosne-Romanée; Echézeaux and Grand Echézeaux around the hamlet of Flagey- Echézeaux; and the small monopole of Clos de Vougeot.

Granted, the limited releases from the grand cru sites of Côte de Nuits are often among the most expensive wines of the world. With these thoughts in mind, the latest study of the Sawyer-Casale series was focused premiers cru wines from the small AOCs of Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-St-Denis that make up the cooler northern section of the region.

Each of these small winegrowing areas have their own special strengths. Chambolle-Musigny, for example, is home to 24 premiers crus vineyards and a mixture of soils that create wines known for their floral aromas, concentrated flavors, a subtle layers of spice. Down the road, Gevrey-Chambertin is home to 26 Premiers Crus and 9 Grand Crus, the most of any village in Burgundy. In general, the wines from the region are elegant with plenty of depth and complex flavors. And although it is smaller and overlapped by the Bonnes-Mares region, Morey-St-Denis is home to 20 premiers cru and 4 grand crus. In general, the profiles of wines from this region tend to be more graceful and feminine with more emphasis on texture, acidity, and flavors of red fruits, forest, and earth. In general, high-quality wines from these three regions run from $65-$150, which makes them ideal for sommeliers, retailers and consumers looking to build a collection of ultra-premium wines from Côte de Nuits that give them more bang for the buck.

Tasting is Believing

To investigate these profiles in more detail, the Sawyer-Casale Wine Education Series invited a group of talented winemakers from Sonoma County and Napa Valley to a special tasting focused on the 2010, 2012 and 2013 vintages from the revered regions of Gervey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-St-Denis, as well as a hidden gem from Oregon’s Willamette Valley provided by our host Don Sebastiani of Sonoma. All wines from Cote de Nuits were provided by our good friends at Aabalat Fine and Rare Wines in Petaluma, www.aabalat.com.

burgcorksThe special guest participating on the panel included winemakers Ana Moller-Racke of The Donum Estate, Steve MacRostie of MacRostie Winery, TJ Evans of Domaine Carneros, Kurt Beitler of Boheme Wines, Sean Foster of Starmont Wines, David Jelinek of The Prisoner Wine Co., Mike Cox of Schug Winery, David Marchesi of Madrone Vineyards Estate, Michael Scorsone of Emmitt Scorsone Wines, Alex Beloz of Tricycle Wine Co, Don Sebastiani, my colleague Keith Casale and myself.

All the wines were tasted blind and ranked on a 1-7 scale. #1 being the highest ranked of the bunch, #7 being the lowest. Here are summaries and rankings of the wines organized in the order we tasted the wines blind:

Theirry Mortet 2010 Clos Prieur, Gevrey-Chambertin

Details: As children, Theirry Mortet and his brother Denis grew up farming grapes at the Charles Mortet et Fils, a small domaine owned by their father. When the brand was splint in 1991, the brothers went off to start their own wineries. Today, Thierry works with 4.5 hectars he owns, including Clos Prieur, a special block located in the Gevrey-Chambertin AOC.

Panel descriptors: Dark red hue with a hint of purple with attractive aromas of dried cherry, ripe berries, black tea, wild mushrooms, violet, leather, and crushed rock. In the glass, the entry is tart at first, but opened up during the tasting. Highlights included vibrant notes of raspberry, red plum, stewed cherry, pomegranate, delicate herbs and mineral. Overall, a well-crafted medium-bodied wine, with generous mouthfeel, chalky tannins, bright acidity, and a long, clean finish.

Group discussion: Granted, this is the oldest wine in the tasting. But with that said, the tasting team thought there was a disconnection between the nose and the palate. While much of this was due to the tart flavors which eventually blew off with more time in the glass, the other quirky part was the hard tannins which covered the true flavors of the grapes. Evans, for instance, thought the ripe fruit aromas on the nose were very engaging, but was surprised that the palate was quite sharp, young, and fairly lean. Whereas, Scorsone liked the way that the oak was nicely integrated, but questioned the use of grapeseed tannins to make the wine more powerful than it needed to be. And Cox simply though the tart flavors took away from the balance. Overall, a good wine from Gevrey-Chambertin but not a show stopper.
Group Ranking: #6 of 7 / Price: $86.95

 Robert Groffier et Fils 2013 Seuvrees, Gevrey-Chambertin

Details: Robert Groffier and his son Serge have earned a reputation for making impact wines with deep flavors that are balanced with the minimal use of fine French oak to express the flavors of the site where the grapes are grown. This is one of those beauties that proves that point and then some.

 Panel descriptors: Classic pale red hue. Lovely mixture of earthy and floral aromas highlighted by black and blue fruits, rose petals, pie crust, ruby grapefruit peels, anise, moist soil, and a touch of French cellar funk. On the palate, the flavors are deep and sensual with notes of blueberry, wild strawberry, fresh sage, cocoa, savory spices, and toasty oak. Overall, a very well-structured wine that dazzles the mouth with dense tannins, layers of flavors and admirable length.

Group discussion: Led by layers of earthy notes, there is no doubt this is a classic Burgundy style. With a relatively low pH and high acidity, the wine kept changing in the glass. For that reason, it was a learning experience in liquid form. This process was helped along by the fact that the tannins became more resolved as the wine opened up once it got some air in the glass. In the end the wine was intriguing, complex and generous but not sweet. At under $100/bottle, it’s a great wine to age or explore after decanting for an hour before serving.
Group Ranking: #2 of 7 / Price: $88.95

 Drouhin Laroze 2013 “Les Rosette” Chambolle-Musigny

Details: Chateau

Panel descriptors: Pale ruby hue with fragrant scents of red berries, blue fruits, wet stone, wild herbs, leather and oak spice. In the mouth, the wine offers a nice textured entry with delicate flavors of ripe raspberry; plum, blueberry, sour cherry, cardamom, lavender and baking spices; a soft, velvety texture; moderate to low acidity; firm tannins; and great length at the end.

Group discussion: Another wine that smelled like a classic Pinot Noir-based wine from Burgundy. Besides the generous flavors, the team was also impressed by the great structure and balanced tannins that make it a very food-friendly wine. At  under $80, its a great value too.
Group Ranking: #3 of 7 / Price: 73.95

Domaine Dujac 2012 Chambolle-Musigny

Details: Founded by Parisian Jacques Seysses in 1968, Dujac has quickly become one the most respected brands in Côte de Nuits. The fruit they get from Chambolle-Musigny is from some of the top vineyards and the finished wines are consistently delicious.

Panel descriptors: Light ruby red hue with hints of purple and strong aromas of a fresh fruit basket, sweet cherry tarts, cola, orange peel, earth, potpourri, wet stone, and spice. Firm entry with rich, ripe and savory flavors of raspberry, cranberry, rhubarb, wild mushrooms, cinnamon, mint Indian spices, and an intriguing hint of roasted green bell pepper on the end. These components were further accentuated by the supple texture, dry tannins, and medium length.

Group discussion: Although the wine was initially reduced, many of the tasters were impressed how this medium-bodied wine opened up in the glass. The group agreed that the strength of the wine was at the front of the palate. For that reason, the flavors start to fade at the mid-point of each sip but compensates for it with wet stone/mineral notes on the finish. In the end, a relatively light wine on its feet but definitely a great example from Chambolle-Musigny and a nice crowd-pleaser to serve to people with a wide range of palates.
Group Ranking: #4 of 7 / Price: $106.65

Lucien Le Moine 2013 Clos des Ormes, Morey-St-Denis

Details: Based in Beaune, Lucien Le Moine is a high profile negotiant that sources fruit from the finest regions in Burgundy. In Robert Parker’s Buyers Guide, the wines produced by the company are in the high-ranked category of “excellent.”

Panel descriptors: Enchanting crimson hue and lofty aromas of ripe brambly fruits, roasted coffee, dried herbs, smoked bacon, and heavy use of sweet oak. Bright entry with rich flavors of high tone fruits, dark cherry, blackberry, cranberry, smoked meats, soy sauce, earth, firm tannins, and a touch of bitterness on the edges.

 Group discussion: There was no doubt about this being a wine about the winemaker not the vineyard. For starters, the wine was reductive, but got better as the wine opened up. But once you started getting more into the profile, the smoky oak profile overshadowed the core notes of sweet fruit and green olive. On top of that, there was a slight case of volatile acid, which did not balance with the flavor profile or how the wine works on the palate. On the brighter side, the tasting team liked the savory notes of fresh herbs and forest floor that opened up with more sips..
Group Ranking: #7 of 7 / Price: $89.95

 Domaine Dujac 2013 Morey-St-Denis

Details: Started from scratch by visionary Jacques Seysses in 1968, Dujac has become one of the special young brands that has helped put the Morey-St-Denis AOC on the map to stay. Meticulous with their use of oak on their premiere crus wines, their signature style from Morey-St-Denis typically has fragrant aromas and lifted fruit flavors that result in wines that get much better with more time in the cellar.

Panel descriptors: Crimson red with perfumed sniffs of fresh rose petals, red fruits, fresh herbs and spice. On the palate, delicate flavors of ripe raspberry, plum, cherry, mineral, chalky palate bright acidity, supple tannins, and great length. Luxury in a glass.

Group discussion: Extremely complex, elegant and refined. Scorsone thought it was soft, seamless, and commented that he enjoyed the wine’s “beautiful breathe of life and vitality in each sip.” Foster loves the elegant appeal of the wine and balance of flavors, mouthfeel, structure, and finish. His conclusion in two words: “seamless” and “yum!” Overall, a dazzling wine and a great example from Morey-St-Denis and the accessible gems Cote de Nuits has to offer in the US market.
Group Ranking: #1 of 7 / Price: $124.95

 Domaine Drouhin 2014 Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley

Details: What’s a Sawyer-Casale Brown Bag tasting without a little something special thrown into the mix? With that in mind, our fantastic host Don Sebastiani supplied the group with a special treat of the Domaine Drouhin 2014 Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills region in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Drouhin family has been making fantastic wines in Burgundy since the 1880s. For that reason, the establishment of Domaine Drouhin project with 225-acres of vineyards and a cutting-edge gravity flow system on the Dundee Hills in Oregon brought immediate attention to the Willamette Valley in the 1990s. And thanks to the French-Willamette Valley connection, the attention on world-class Pinot Noir has only increased from that point onwards on the West Coast as a whole!

Panel descriptors: Dark red hue with deep aromas of red and black fruits, brown sugar, vanillin, and integrated oak. On the palate, the entry is sweet and assertive with dynamic flavors of fresh raspberry jam, ripe boysenberry and light herbs. Overall, the wine is young, smooth, balanced and coats the mouth with ripe, juicy flavors that lead to a long finish that makes you want to investigate more in the next sip.

Group discussion: From the beginning, the riper fruit was an early clue that this was a New World wine. While the panel felt the weight of the wine was fantastic, there were a few references to confectionary sweetness on the palate caused by the very ripe fruit profile. Theses factors also provided more firmness in the mid-palate but not much acidity. For those reasons, the group felt the wine was more “jammy” and “hedonistic” than the offering from the Cote de Nuits.
Group Ranking: #5 of 7 / Price: $45 (Available at www.domainedrouhin.com)

Conclusion: Overall, a terrific showing from the northern AOCs of the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy. All the wines involved in the tasting (including Domaine Drouhin) showed why the unique characteristics of the sites where the grapes are grown determines the complexity of flavors profiles and the ageworthiness of the finished wines from these special cooler climate regions.

Next up: Exploring the unique flavors and aromas of high-profile the unique Albarino grapes grown in the Rias Baixas region of Spain. Just one of the many new reports from the Sawyer-Casale Wine Education Series to close out the year in style!

Pinot on the River: Healdsburg Plaza, Oct 23rd

pinot-logo-png-224x300Join me next Sunday at Pinot on the River in the downtown Healdsburg Plaza Square. There will be over 100 wineries at the Pinot Noir Grand Tasting plus guest Artisan Food Vendors.  Enjoy the limited production West Coast Pinot Noirs, in the company of winemakers and other Pinot-loving consumers.  As always this event benefits The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County.

Buy your tickets, or if you are unable to attend
then purchase some
Raffle Tickets for the chance to win
one of three fabulous wine prizes!

Instant Wine Cellar of Pinot Noir
6 Magnums of Pinot Noir
3 Magnums of Pinot Noir

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Pairings for the Senses: Sunday Oct 16th

Join me for three spectacular Pairings for the Senses events this autumn at the Sonoma Valley Museum of ArtAll involving wine pairings!

son-mus-artThe first will be this Sunday October 16th,
Art+POETRY+Wine, where poets Indigo Moor, Dean Rader, Brynn Saito, and Tess Taylor will each read a selection of their poetry inspired by art in the Pairings exhibition.  Sonoma County wines, selected by myself, complement each poem/art pair.

Mark your calendars and stay tuned for details about
Art+MUSIC+Wine on November 5,  and Art+FOOD+Wine on December 3.

The Sawyer Somm Show: Exploring Autumn with Wine

In the latest episode of The Sawyer Somm Show, join me as I discuss some recent events, wines for fall and some intriguing wine news; Making wine with biodynamically farmed grapes (and marijuana)
Constellation Brands Eyes $1 Billion Sale of Canadian Wine Business.

Featured wines include Frivolo Moscato Blanco CA – Noceto 2014, Borne 2014 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, mile marker 33.89, 50 Year Anniversary Robert Mondavi, Maestro 2013 and many more!